Ġbejna (Maltese pronunciation: [ˈd͡ʒbɛjnɐ], plural ġbejniet) is a small round cheese made in Malta (commonly associated with the island of Gozo) from sheep milk or goat milk, salt and rennet. Most sheep's milk produced in Malta are used for the production of these small cheeses.
Milk in Malta was traditionally sold by milking goats on the streets and sold immediately as is. The unpasteurised milk sold was one of the causes of the spread of Brucellosis ("Deni Irqiq" or "The Maltese Fever") in the late 19th to the early 20th century. David Bruce and Sir Themistocles Zammit are credited in stopping the pandemic.
Preparation and varieties
Ġbejna is shaped in a cheese hurdle made of dried reeds, although now plastic ones are also used. They are traditionally dried in small ventilated rooms, with windows protected by a special mesh mosquito net. It is said that in the past sea water, rather than rennet, was used as a curdling agent. The cheese is available both from pasteurised and unpasteurised milk.
Ġbejniet are prepared and served in a variety of forms: fresh (friski or tal-ilma), sundried (moxxa, bajda or t'Għawdex), salt cured (maħsula) or peppered (tal-bżar). The fresh variety have a smooth texture and a milky flavour and are kept in their own whey in a similar manner to mozzarella. The sundried variety have a more definite, nutty almost musky taste, and are fairly hard. The peppered variety are covered in crushed black pepper and cured, after which they may be stored in oil or pickled in vinegar. Their sharp taste becomes more piquant the more they age and they also develop a crumbly texture.
In Maltese cuisine
- Government of Malta (16 November 2012). "Production and Sale of Ġbejna and Dairy Products Rules, 2012" (PDF). The Mala Government Gazette. pp. 12947–12964.
- Vassallo, D. J. (1996). "The saga of brucellosis: controversy over credit for linking Malta fever with goats’ milk.". The Lancet 348: 804–808. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(96)05470-0.
- The safety of agricultural food
- Anton F. Attard, "Gozo's Traditional Crafts & Delicacies"